Law firms representing 14 passengers or their families have filed public notices against NJ Transit, saying they plan to seek more than $115 million in damages in connection with an Aug. 19 Newark bus crash that killed two people.
All riders who have filed a claim for their “catastrophic” injuries say the crash has left them permanently disabled.
“Every single aspect of her life has changed as a result of the crash,” Bryan Roberts, an attorney representing passenger Michelle Hill, told NJ Advance Media.
Roberts, who wouldn’t detail his client’s injuries, has filed a notice of claim with plans to seek to $35 million in damages, marking the largest potential single lawsuit that NJ Transit faces following the crash.
“We’re just trying to get some sort of semblance of life back [for them] after losing simple things we all take for granted, like walking,” said one of the attorneys, Gregg Stone, who has filed notice for two injured passengers.
Two other passengers, Kimley Edmonds and Khaliliah Raybon, each submitted notices to sue for $21.5 million in damages and future loss of pay. Their lawyer, who also represents a third passenger, Raye Futerfas, did not return calls for comment.
Two people were killed in the August accident where surveillance video shows the driver of an empty No. 59 bus running a red light at the intersection on Raymond Boulevard and broadsiding a No. 13 bus just after 6 a.m., according to police.
Joseph Barthelus, a 70-year-old driver who had worked for NJ Transit for decades, was pronounced dead at the scene. A 49-year-old city woman Jesy Garcia, who was heading to work on the commuter bus, died later that day.
Garcia’s family has notified NJ Transit they intend to file a lawsuit naming the agency, state of New Jersey, Barthelus and the other transit driver, Jim Roberts. The family plans to seek $5 million in damages, according to the notice.
Bambie Banks, who was sitting a few seats behind the driver on the opposite side of where the bus struck, was in the intensive care unit for a month after breaking her pelvis, back and neck, all of which had to be surgically repaired with medical plates and screws, according to a claim.
“She had to learn how to walk again,” said Stone, her lawyer.
“She saw the bus coming and said, ‘Oh Jesus,'” he said. “The next thing she remembered was looking up through the bus and seeing the clear sky.”
Another passenger represented by Stone, Claude Zongo, severed the nerves in his right leg, leaving his foot unable to roll heel to toe, the attorney said.
“A seat was wrapped around his leg,” Stone said. A piece of debris also slashed Zongo “severely” across his face and chest, according to his lawyer.
Lawyers representing the other eight passengers did not return calls or declined to comment to the notices of claim, required by the state to be submitted within 90 days in order to file a lawsuit against a public agency in New Jersey.
Lawsuits cannot move forward until six months after the notices are filed. According to the statute, lawsuits are required to be filed within two years of the accident, however, a notice of claim does not require someone to file suit.
The descriptions of the passengers’ injuries were redacted from the 14 notices of claim, obtained through an OPRA request.
Both Stone and Roberts said they are eager to review the findings from the investigations by the Essex County Prosector’s Office and NJ Transit.
The crash is still under investigation, Essex County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly said Friday.
In 2014, the agency settled with June Layne for $4.5 million after she sued in state Superior Court in Essex County. Her lawyer James Maggs argued she would need permanent care from a being hit by an NJ Transit bus was crossing the street in 2010. She claimed she was trapped under the bus, suffered extensive injuries and was hospitalized for months.
Maggs, who has represented multiple clients who have settled claims with the transit agency, explained that the damages claimed in a notice of claim are to estimate the cost of future liability related to an injury, allowing for the agency to possibly settle without additional court costs.
Layne’s notice of claim sought $10 million in damages.